In her movie debut, Kim Stanley gives a heart-rending performance in one of the very few films to show what effect Hollywood or show business, in general, can have on a single person. She captures the character's restless misery, fragile turmoil and neurosis, brought about by the rejection and unhappiness of childhood.
The Goddess is an in-depth character study about the life of a troubled, lonely girl, Emily Ann Faulkner, who becomes a successful movie star, Rita Shawn, and is adored by millions of fans, but is miserable in her private life. The story is said to be loosely based on Marilyn Monroe.
Emily Ann (played by Patty Duke at age eight) was born in poverty in The South, has no father, no friends, and is unloved by her indifferent mother (played by Betty Lou Holland), who does not want to be tied down with a child. When Emily Ann becomes a teenager (played by Kim Stanley) she is still a loner, but has a sensual sexuality and boys are attracted to her. She marries young, but leaves her first husband, a world wearied GI, John Tower (played by Steven Hill), when she meets a well-meaning boxing promoter, Dutch Seymour (played by Lloyd Bridges), whose jealously and possessiveness ultimately drives them apart.
She becomes an actress and is soon transformed by Hollywood into the glamorous superstar sex goddess Rita Shawn. Though she has attained fame and wealth, she is still a loner in the depths of despair. When her elderly mother, who has turned from immorality to religion, bordering on fanaticism, comes to visit, Rita is thrilled and clings to her. She tries to impress her and has a couple in to visit. As they are leaving her mansion, her mother thanks them for being such good friends to her daughter. She is told that they do not really know her daughter, they had just met.
Rita wants her mother to stay on, but Mrs. Faulkner insists on going home. When she is leaving the house, Rita becomes angry and screams from the doorway for her to go ahead; she hates her and wishes she were dead. When her mother dies, Rita is heavily sedated and miserable at the funeral. She now has the constant attention of a stern secretary/nurse (played by Elizabeth Wilson), who takes control of the self-destructive Rita Shawn.